When I wrote about my Linux-powered laptop awhile ago, things were going well, tech-wise. My refurbished Windows 10 laptop was a powerhouse, allowing me to blog and write, as well as keep up with my freelance work. (Writing includes my recent essay in The Joy of Joe: Memories of America’s Fighting Man from Today’s Grown-Up Kids). With my formerly-Ubuntu-now-Linux Lite-powered Panasonic Toughbook providing a great backup machine, it seemed like I was unstoppable. But then, something happened…
My Windows 10 laptop started overheating. It also become extremely slow, often grinding to a near halt when browsing or using software. After performing the necessary virus and malware checks, I discovered that much of the hardware in my HP laptop (including the motherboard) was nearly ten years old. Of course, I should have known better – I bought it refurbished three years ago, and In addition, my Panasonic Toughbook was a Pentium-M machine that, even upgraded to 1.5 GB RAM (which is all you can upgrade it), was a bit slow. It was a tough decision, but I made a very critical decision…
I needed a new laptop for freelance work, and my HP laptop was going to be converted into a Linux box.
Thankfully, since I had enough of a freelance income, I did some shopping for a new laptop. Although my ideal laptop (an Acer) was not available, my second choice – an HP that was much slimmer, had a larger hard drive and was more current. (Although I considered sticking exclusively to Linux, much of my software is Windows-based, and past experience with clients favors a Windows environment). My Toughbook would still keep Linux Lite 3.6, but would be officially “retired” and put in storage. Although I considered making the old HP laptop a dual boot, I decided against it.
You have to know what you’re doing to dual boot Windows 10 and Linux, and I was – and am – strictly amateur when it comes to Linux.
But then came the critical decision – what Linux distro to load onto the old HP laptop? I really love Linux Lite’s usability, and that many of the software packages were easily downloadable. (When it comes to laptops, I just want to set it and forget it). Linux Mint looked really good, and I was hearing great things about Manjaro Linux. For a few moments, I even considered using LXLE, but realized that I already had my heart set on a distro, and that the others would only be follow-ups.
However, I did what anyone considering adopting Linux would do: watch a ton of YouTube videos (including my now favorite Linux-centric YouTube channel, Switched to Linux) and test-drove various distros except Manjaro. (Manjaro is based on a different flavor of Linux, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with the learning curve. However, I intended to play with it on the soon-to-be-Linux-powered-HP8530P-Elitebook once I had another installed. Think of it has test-driving a Porsche while owning a Mustang).
So moving full steam ahead, I installed Linux Lite 3.8, and it worked near-beautifully. I say “near” because there were a few adjustments to make – the WiFi indicator was blinking, the battery wasn’t charging, and there were some display glitches. But one major glitch was that the software indicated that it hadn’t been updated in two days (right after I did a full install)…yet, when I attempted to update it, Linux Lite informed me that the software was up-to-date.
However, what I hadn’t realized was that I had installed version 3.8 a few days before the latest version – Linux Lite 4.0 – was formally released. So last night, I did what any enterprising person would do in this situation: install and modify the latest version. And it works beautifully….except for the battery. (However, I had problems with the battery leading up to the installation, and I cannot blame Linux. I will probably, at some point, need to purchase a new battery).
But I know that right now, you’re probably thinking, “Gordon, why are you so fixated on Linux?” Part of my fascination with Linux – and open source software in general – is the idea that it’s based on community needs, and that it is (in theory) easy to modify towards a particular function. One of the things I love about installing Linux on hardware is that it not only extends the usability of technology, but allows it to perform at a higher level. (As much as I would love to think that the Toughbook could remain my backup, even during its prime with Windows XP it would never be considered “lightning fast”). Rather than recycling or junking an old unit, it now becomes extremely usable and valuable, even if it’s just for “basic” use.
But Linux – and open source software – really emphasize the importance of digital excellence: that software, hardware, and digital tools allow us greater access into the larger world. Despite its recent repeal, it is still important that people understand the implications of net neutrality and contact their legislators. But more importantly, it’s important to remember that technology serves people, and not vice versa. Open source software allows individuals and communities an opportunity to grow, learn, and access resources and information.
But more importantly, it allows communities to gather, helps individuals to develop skills, and provides great resources for those seeking low-cost technology.
If you would like to learn more about Linux or open source technology, please check out Free Geek Chicago. They provide training and sell Linux-driven hardware.
And as always, thanks for reading!